US meat exporters flagged the need to be "aggressive with our marketing efforts" after data showed an accelerating decline in pork shipments to the key Chinese market, where demand is being sapped by a recovery in domestic output.
The US Meat Export Federation, while terming April a "very solid month for US red meat exports" - with overall beef shipments rising by 13% to 99,786 tonnes, and pork volumes by 8% to 203,091 tonnes – cautioned that "we remain an extremely competitive situation across the world".
The industry "must stay aggressive with our marketing efforts", Philip Sang, the federation's chief executive said.
"Our competitors… will quickly fill the void if we do not defend our market share."
The group highlighted in particular the need to expand sales of pork to markets other than China, by far the top consumer of the meat, in the face of an accelerating drop in shipments to the destination.
Sales of pork to China, including Hong Kong, tumbled by 28% to 26,786 tonnes in April, although the decline was in part offset by increased sales of so-called "variety cuts", such as offal, reducing to 14% the overall rate of decline in shipments of pig products.
The slowdown reflects a recovery in China's own production, which is being encouraged by the dent to feed prices from the ditching of a guaranteed corn price scheme, and moves to selldown huge government stocks.
"As China's domestic pork production rebounds, US pork muscle cut exports to China/Hong Kong have trended below year-ago levels each month in 2017," Usmef said.
"With exports to China/Hong Kong expected to face steeper terrain in coming months as China's domestic hog prices continue to fall, other destinations for US pork used for further processing take on added importance."
The federation flagged growth in shipments to the key Mexican market, which lifted by 24% to 213,360 tonnes its imports of US pork in the first four months of the year.
And it noted "impressive April results" for US sales to markets including South Korea, which raised its purchases by 21% year on year to 14,585 tonnes, the Philippines, up 91% at 3,430 tonnes, and Australia, which lifted imports by 11% to 5,485 tonnes.
"Colombia led a very strong month for pork exports to Central and South America, with April exports to Colombia increasing 84% from a year ago in volume," to 5,085 tonnes.
In beef, the federation flagged that "leading market Japan continued to shine" in April, with US exports to the country up 15% at 23,540 tonnes.
"Growth to Japan has been driven by the surging volume of chilled US beef, with the US capturing 52% of Japan's chilled imports" in the January-to-April period, up from a 39% market share during the first four months of last year.
Beef exports to South Korea "cooled to some degree in April, but remained above last year's strong pace", rising 8% to 11,837 tonnes.
"Similar to Japan, the driver of growth to Korea is in chilled US beef," Usmef said.
By Jamie Day